BYRD v. NJ DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 3/23/2017. (tf, n.m.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 17-0016 (RBK) (JS)
NJ DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al.,
ROBERT B. KUGLER, U.S.D.J.
Plaintiff, Jerome Byrd, is a state prisoner at the South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton,
New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a civil rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983. At this time, this Court must screen the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)
and 1915A to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from suit. For the following reasons, the complaint will be dismissed
without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
The allegations of the complaint will be construed as true for purposes of this screening
opinion. Mr. Byrd names as defendants: (1) NJ Department of Corrections; (2) Willie Bonds –
Administrator South Woods State Prison; (3) Gary Lanigan – Commissioner of New Jersey
Department of Corrections; (4) S.C.O. Brown; and (5) S.C.O Jackson.
Mr. Byrd’s allegations center on an incident that occurred at the South Woods State
Prison on December 20, 2014. He states that on that date, “an inmate from another housing unit
entered my cell and attacked me[.] [M]y safety and security was not protected as it should have
been per my federal and state constitutional rights.” (Dkt. No. 1 at p. 4) Mr. Byrd alleges that the
defendants Lanigan and Bonds were negligent as they irresponsibly allowed incompetent officers
to secure his safety and well-being. (See id. at p.3)
Mr. Byrd seeks monetary damages as relief in the complaint.
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub.L. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66
to 1321-77 (Apr. 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil
actions in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B),
seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), or brings a
claim with respect to prison conditions, see 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts
to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief. see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012)
(citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F. App’x
230, 232 (3d Cir. 2012) (discussing 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(l)); Courteau v. United States, 287
Fed.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). That standard is set forth
in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544
(2007), as explicated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. To survive the
court's screening for failure to state a claim, the complaint must allege ‘sufficient factual matter’
to show that the claim is facially plausible. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210
(3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 308 n.3 (3d Cir. 2014)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “[A] pleading that offers ‘labels or conclusions' or ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’ ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Pro se pleadings, as always, will be liberally construed. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519 (1972). Nevertheless, “pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to
support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of
constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a
judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's
judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was
Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege first, the violation of
a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and second, that the alleged
deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See Harvey v.
Plains Twp. Police Dep't, 635 F.3d 606, 609 (3d Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see also West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
This Court construes Mr. Byrd’s complaint as attempting to assert a failure to protect
claim against the defendants. To state a claim against a prison official for failure to protect, “the
inmate must plead facts that show: (1) he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial
risk of serious harm, (2) the official was deliberately indifferent to that substantial risk to his
health and safety, and (3) the official's deliberate indifference caused him harm.” Bistrian v. Levi,
696 F.3d 352, 367 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994);
Hamilton v. Leavy, 117 F.3d 742, 746 (3d Cir. 1997)). “Deliberate indifference” is a subjective
standard whereby “‘the prison official-defendant must actually have known or been aware of the
excessive risk to inmate safety.’” Id. (citing Beers-Capitol v. Whetzel, 256 F.3d 120,125 (3d Cir.
2001)). As noted by the Third Circuit:
It is not sufficient that the official should have known of the risk.
[Beers Capitol, 256 F.3d at] 133. A plaintiff can, however, prove
an official's actual knowledge of a substantial risk to his safety “in
the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence.”
Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842. In other words, “a factfinder may
conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the
very fact that the risk was obvious.” Id.
Bistrian, 696 F.3d at 367.
The complaint does not allege with any facial plausibility and specificity that Mr. Byrd
was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm to him or that any of
the defendants were deliberately indifferent to that risk. Accordingly, the complaint fails to state
a failure to protect claim against any of the defendants. Thus, Mr. Byrd fails to state any federal
claim for relief.
As there are no more federal claims remaining against any of the defendants, any
remaining potential basis for Mr. Byrd’s state law claims is supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1367. However, when a court has dismissed all claims over which it had federal
question jurisdiction, it has the discretion to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
the remaining state law claims. See id. § 1367(c)(3). Because the federal claims against the
defendants no longer remain, this Court will exercise its discretion to decline supplemental
jurisdiction over any state law claims Mr. Byrd is pursuing in his complaint.
For the foregoing reasons, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice as Mr. Byrd
fails to state a federal claim for relief and this Court declines to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Mr. Byrd’s state law claims. Mr. Byrd shall be given the opportunity to file a
proposed amended complaint should he elect to do so that shall also be subject to screening. An
appropriate order will be entered.
DATED: March 23, 2017
s/Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United States District Judge
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